Riding Center hopes to continue their mission

By Len Kiese - bio | email

LEE COUNTY, GA (WALB) - A South Georgia non-profit organization is worried that their good efforts will be thwarted by the bad economy. For years the Therapeutic Riding Center has put smiles on faces of families dealing with disabilities. With individual and corporate donations down, the ride is a little bumpy at the center.

Where there's a horse named Will, there's a girl named Sarah. "He's appropriately named because he has a will of his own," says volunteer Gretchen Gay, "and Sarah's been riding Will for 6 or 7 years."

Together they attend therapy, but this isn't your typical kind of therapy. For people with special needs, the Therapeutic Riding Center promotes a healthy emotional and physical process between horse and rider. "They bond with each other. The experience of seeing a child in a wheelchair be able to get on this horse and be face to face with his peers and not be looking up all the time, miracles happen here," said Gay.

18-year-old Sarah Barfield has been making her therapeutic rounds at Hunny Pot Stables for ten years. Constantly be her side is her father Phil who's noticed a positive change in his daughter over time.

"Been able to develop some physically by just riding on the horses and it gives her an outlet each week that she can look forward to," said Phil Barfield.

It even brings out a laugh every now and then. "It's just a wonderful, wonderful experience for the riders and the horses and all of the volunteers who come here," said Gay.

The experience is priceless for full-time volunteer Gretchen Gay but she worries about the future. There's a chance those wonderful experiences could end because of budget struggles. "Yes there is," said Gay, "and I can't talk about that. We have three riders who are in their 70's and how do you tell those folks we just don't have the money for them to ride anymore?"

Donations are down and so is the number of volunteers. "Quite frankly if we didn't have volunteers, we probably would have closed our doors two years ago," said Gay.

Now they're hoping to increase people donating their time and money to prevent a therapy shutdown. "It would be a great void for the community, not just for us, but so many people get great benefit from this," said Barfield.

It's a beneficial ride Sarah looks forward to every week. To continue the riding therapy, many hope where there's a horse named Will, there's a way.

The Riding Center especially needs volunteers on Mondays and Tuesdays. Along with monetary donations they'll also take hay, horse feed and even vitamins for the horses. Donations are tax-deductible. To help, call 229-434-1493.

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